Orcival

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Notre-Dame-d'Orcival,
Notre-Dame-de-la-Delivrande (Our Lady of Deliverance)
Notre-Dame-des-Fers (Our Lady of the Irons, i.e. the chains she liberated prisoners from)

12th century copy of older original, wood covered in silver, except for face and hands. Church closed for lunch 12:30-2:00 p.m.

Orcival is one of the oldest and most famous Marian shrines in the Auvergne. People have been going there on pilgrimage since before the 10th century. It has a miraculous spring and everything a Black Madonna calls for, except that she was restored to her original pale colors in 1960.

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One legend attributes her to St. Luke. Another tells of the master builder, who was given the task of building a church for the town. In order to determine the proper place for the church, he randomly threw his hammer and where it landed the Madonna was found. The first church was built in the 11th century, but soon became too small to welcome the crowds of pilgrims coming for miraculous cures. So the current basilica was erected in 1146 to 1178. The Black Madonna returned to her place of apparition three times, but eventually she had to content herself with a compromise. The ruins of the original church were called "Tomb of the Virgin". A monument was built there and every year since the 12th century, on August 15th, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into heaven, Our Lady is carried in a great candle light procession by barefoot men to her "tomb” and then brought back to the village.

Until 1885, she was kept in the crypt, the traditional place for Black Madonnas. Now she resides in a place in the church that is illumined by be sun at noon on August 15th - not bad either! 

Sources:
The amazing website Lieux Sacres has great detail and photos about this shrine.
Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana Books, : 1985p.207

In

La-Chapelle-Geneste

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16th century copy of older statue. The legend recounts that one day two shepherds saw their sheep prostrating themselves before a grove of trees called genets. As they approached, they became aware of an apparition of the Black Madonna.

The village owes its name to those trees. Its church still has some Romanesque parts.

In

Limoges

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Our Lady of the fullness of light
(Notre Dame de la pleine Lumière)

Modern Black Madonna inspired by Romanesque ones of the Auvergne such as Our Lady of Le Puy. Created in 2009 by Léa Sham’s (the enamel) and by Alain Duban (the sculpture). Website of cathedral. 

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In

Clermont-Ferrand II

In the crypt of the beautiful Romanesque basilica, 4 Rue Notre Dame du Port, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, 29 cm, 17th century copy of a much older Byzantine original.

Notre Dame du Port

In the crypt of the beautiful Romanesque basilica, 4 Rue Notre Dame du Port, 63000 Clermont-Ferrand, 29 cm, 17th century copy of a much older Byzantine original.

Many pilgrims came to the church in the Middle Ages to view the statue. Ean Begg mentions an ancient sacred well in the crypt and writes: "The present Virgin, an Oriental Vierge de Tendresse, whose image is knowm from 13 C; was saved by two women at the Revolution, but stolen on 28 Jan. 1864. It cried so much that it was restored by the remorseful thief in 1873." (The Cult of the Black Vrigin, Arkana: 1985, p. 181)

In

Paris II

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Our Lady of Good Deliverance
(Notre Dame de la Bonne Delivrance)

In the chapel of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Thomas of Villeneuve (open to the public), 52 Blvd. d'Argenson, Neuilly-sur-Seine, outside of Paris, 14th century, replacing an 11th century version of The Black Virgin of Paris, 150 cm, painted limestone. 
photo: Fortier

She used to stand in the church Saint-Etienne-des-Grès in the Latin Quarter, but that church was destroyed during the Revolution and all its content sold. Madame de Carignan, a pious rich lady bought the statue and venerated her in her private home until she was arrested during the Reign of Terror (a period of 11 months following the Revolution, which cost 20-40,000 people their lives.) In jail she used to pray to Our Lady of Good Deliverance with others who had been arrested for their faith, in particular the Sisters of St. Thomas. When all of them survived and were freed in 1806, Madame gave the Black Virgin to the Sisters. 

Under the patronage of this Virgin the Royal Confraternity of the Charity of Our Lady of Good Deliverance had been founded in 1533 and comprised thousands of aristocratic and common members. It was meant to be "a saintly society" dedicated to the honor of God and "his very dignified Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary … to keep a singular devotion alive in all real Christian men and women." This association was founded by a priest named Jean Olivier, who was "greatly pious, devoted to Our Lady with strong affection, in the service of the Queen of Angels".(*1) The group organized processions and ministered to prisoners, even paying their debts if they were imprisoned for not being able to pay them. 

Our Lady of Good Deliverance was invoked as a helper in all kinds of calamities and suffering, whether of a spiritual or material nature. She was also called upon as the Victorious One in the fight against the Huguenots and other "heretics." 

The great saints of Paris, most notably Vincent de Paul and Francis de Sales prayed before her. Young Francis spent some years in Paris as he was trying to find his way in life. His poor soul went into a downward spiral of despair as he became more and more convinced that he was doomed to eternal hell fire. One day he went before Our Lady of Good Deliverance to pour out his heart. Soon he was moved to pick up a prayer tablet that was hanging from the railing of her chapel. He read the prayer, "…rose from his knees, and at that very moment felt entirely healed. His troubles, so it seemed to him, had fallen about his feet like a leper's scales."(*2) Immediately he made a vow of celibacy before God and his Mother. The prayer he had sent to Heaven was the Memorare: 
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To you I come; before you I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen. 

Not long after this event another priest with great love for Our Mother who ministered to the poor and to prisoners in Paris, spread the fame of this prayer. To this day it is recited all over the world at the conclusion of the Rosary. 
____________________________ 

Footnotes:
*1: www.missel.free.fr/Sanctoral/07/18.php
*2: Account of his very close friend St. Jane de Chantal, quoted in: Marie Chantal Sbordone, VHM Mary's Role in the Faith Crisis of St. Francis de Sales, on www.desales.edu/~salesian/resources/articles/English/sfscrisis.bvm.htm 

In

Marseille

 all photos: Ella Rozett

all photos: Ella Rozett

Notre Dame de confession

(Our Lady of Confession of Faith)

 In the crypt of the monastery church and basilica Saint Victor, Place Saint-Victor, 13007 Marseille, 78 cm, 1,02m, base included; 12-13th century copy of a more ancient statue. Painted walnut wood.

To explain this Black Madonna’s title we have to go back many centuries in history: The basilica that houses her was Marseille's first Christian shrine. Local legend of the Provence claims that Mary Magdalene was the same Mary as Mary of Bethanie, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, all close friends of Jesus. There is no Biblical or other evidence that Mary of Bethanie was the same person as Mary Magdalene. I think the claim simply stems from the pious desire to have more stories to flesh out the figure of Mary Magdalene and to be able to claim her as one’s local apostle of Christ.

 The grotto of Lazarus and Mary "Magdalene" i.e. Mary of Bethanie.

The grotto of Lazarus and Mary "Magdalene" i.e. Mary of Bethanie.

So Mary of Bethanie (think: Mary Magdalene if you are from the Provence) fled from persecution in the Holy Land to Marseille with her brother Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, and her sister Martha. They landed in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, famous for its statue of black Sara-la-Kali, and went on to evangelize Marseille. When their persecutors caught up with them, they hid for a while outside the walls of the ancient city in the catacombs. Later “Magdalene” took up permanent residence in a cave in nearby Sainte-Baume. Remnants of those burial tunnels can be seen to this day in the crypt of Saint Victor. Among the underground tombs of the dead the friends of Jesus found a grotto, which they enlarged to serve as their “temple”. As more and more converts joined them, they expanded the underground tunnels and chapel.

That, at least, is the claim of a well researched book, published in 1864, of which I bought the last copy in Saint Victor’s gift shop in 2016.[1] The modern guides to the shrine no longer mention Mary Magdalene, but they do call the grotto the Confessional of St. Lazarus. Even the old book already laments that some people completely ignore the existence of the ancient grotto, sanctified by Lazarus and “Magdalene”. It recounts that since the 17th century a certain Dr. Launoy and others fought to erase the ancient traditions concerning the crypts of St. Victor.[2]

For three hundred years, Christians gathered at this grotto. Lazarus was buried in it[3] and later Saint Victor of Marseilles and his three companions. The latter four were soldiers in the Roman army and publicly denounced “idol worship”. They were killed for confessing their Christian faith around 290 A.D.

Once Christianity had become legal, Saint John Cassian (360-435 A.D.) erected a basilica over this holy burial place in 420-430 and called it Saint Victor. Its Madonna was called Our Lady of the Confession of the Martyrs, in honor of St. Victor and his companion martyrs.[4] Attached to the church were two monasteries, one for men and one for women. Of those original buildings only the church remains. It has become the crypt of the present day basilica. The very impressive, current abbey church was built in the 11th to 14th centuries.

 Before dawn on her great feast day, the procession arrives back at her church. 

Before dawn on her great feast day, the procession arrives back at her church. 

 the view from the upper church into the crypt

the view from the upper church into the crypt

According to an obscure French alchemists’ website, Our Lady the Green One is an old title of Our Lady of the Confession.[5] Normally I wouldn’t pay this much heed, but she certainly has a close relationship to the color green and she has another old title, which has fallen out of use. Ean Begg mentions it as: Our Lady of the Fennel or Our Lady of New Fire.[6] “Our Lady of the Fennel” is actually a misunderstanding of the old Provence dialect words ‘fue nou’ or ‘fuech noou’. They mean ‘new fire’, not ‘fennel’ or ‘fenouil’ in modern French. She was long called Our Lady of the New Fire, because on her feast day, Candlemas, the new fire for the candles was blessed, just like nowadays the new Easter fire for the Easter candle is blessed during the Easter vigil. People would then bring fresh wicks and oil lamps and take some of this “new fire” home. This old rite of blessing a fire connected with Mary (as well as one connected with Jesus) probably survived longer at St. Victor’s church than anywhere else.[7] It still echoes to this day in the green candles, which the faithful buy at the church on Candlemas to offer there and also take home.

What about the title the Green One? The easy explanation for it would be that she wears a green mantle, not so easily made out normally, because the colors are faded. However on her feast day, Candlemas, on February 2nd, her wooden green mantel is overlaid with a green cloth over coat and green candles are burnt and blessed in her honor.

But why green and why February 2nd? According to Roman legend King Numa Pompilius (753–673 B.C.E.) reorganized the Roman calendar by adding two months to the existing ten and making February the last month of the year. Many cultures end each year with some kind of purification ritual that is meant to clear away any negativity of the old year so one can have a fresh start into the new. The Romans were no exception. The word februarius (February) comes from the verb februare which means "to purify". The beginning of this month was dedicated to purifying ceremonies of atonement known as the "februales".

As so often, Mary helped the Church baptize a pre-Christian custom. In the Christian calendar February 2nd marks the “the purification of the Virgin” and “the presentation of Jesus in the temple”. According to Jewish law a woman was unfit to enter the temple for 40 days after giving birth to a son and for 80 days after giving birth to a daughter. (Leviticus 12:1-5) At the end of those periods she had to bring “a burnt offering (holocaust) and a sin offering” to a priest. He would sacrifice it in atonement for her. (For the sin of having given birth?! It’s just mind-boggling what patriarchs come up with!) Only then was she purified and “clean”. According to the gospel of Luke 2:22-40 Mary and Joseph fulfilled this law. Hence the name of the feast “the purification of the Virgin” – a perfect match for the Roman ferbruales!

The day became widely known as Candlemas, because to this day, it’s when priests bless the candles that will be used on the altar throughout the year and also any candles the faithful bring for blessings. In Marseille these candles are green, a color associated with rejuvenation and purification since antiquity. I guess in order for the human mind and soul to be rejuvenated, it must be purified. “The Romans had a great appreciation for the color green; it was the color of Venus, the goddess of gardens, vegetables and vineyards.”[8]

 Les Navettes, the special boat-bread of the Black Madonna of Marseille

Les Navettes, the special boat-bread of the Black Madonna of Marseille

As to the Egyptian roots of the title The Green One: The Blessed Mother shares many titles with Isis, but Marseille is the only place I know of, where she may have been known as The Green One, closely reminiscent of Isis’ title ‘the lady of green crops’, ‘the green goddess (Uatchet)’. Interestingly, Isis also is called The Lady of Bread[9] and we see that special, sacred bread is distributed and venerated on Candlemas Day in Marseille. Many say that this bread in the form of a boat (a rather feminine looking one, if you ask me!) is a symbol of the boat of Isis, the papyrus boat in which she searched all over Egypt for the body parts of her slain husband.[10] She also sailed across the heavens on the solar barque of the sun god Ra. And so one of her many roles was to be the goddess of navigation, just as Mary became the Star of the Sea, the protector of sailors.


Footnotes

[1] Notice sur les Cryptes de L’Abbaye Saint-Victor-lez-Marseille: Precise Historique Description de ces Souterrains, Typographie Veuve Marius Olive, Marseille: 1864, pp. 8 - 10
[2] Ibid. p. IV-V
[3] Lazarus’ remains were moved to Autun around the 9th century.
[4] See the article “Candlemas at Saint Victor” on: http://www.marseille-tourisme.com/en/discover-marseille/tradition/christmas-time/
[5] http://www.archerjulienchampagne.com/article-2181595.html
[6] (Begg, p. 197) http://www.archerjulienchampagne.com/article-2181595.html
[7] Notices sur les Cryptes, op. cit. p. 40-41.
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green#In_the_ancient_world
[9] http://www.touregypt.net/isis.htm
[10] http://www.egyptianmyths.net/mythisis.htm

In

Vichy

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In St. Blaise, the “old church”, to which was added on the “new church” Notre Dame des Malades in 1931, on the Place d’Allier, Allier department of the Auvergne region. 14th century, walnut wood.Photo right: Mark Veermans

Vichy:

Our Lady of the Sick
(Notre-Dame des Malades)

As so many Black Madonnas, so this one too resides in a place that was already sacred during pre-Christian times. Excavations have revealed cults of Isis, Cybele, Pallas Athena, Venus, Persephone, Jupiter Sabazios, and finally Vichiaco, the personified energy of the sacred spring that made Vichy famous.(*1)

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Vichy is the “queen of spa towns” with five healing thermal mineral springs. It was established by the Romans in 52 B.C.E. While people used to bathe in the waters, the onslaught of health pilgrims became so great that people took to merely drinking from the springs. A pre-Christian legend links the healing qualities of the water to a white fairy who moved to Vichy from nearby Varennes-sur-Allier, because her source there had been polluted by a woman.
Later Christians connected the blessed waters with their miracle working Black Madonna of the Sick. Our Lady’s first residence was the Celestine monastery that was established above the cavern of the famous Célestine source. 

 The 5,20 meter high statue of the Black Madonna on top of the dome of her church.

The 5,20 meter high statue of the Black Madonna on top of the dome of her church.

By the end of the 16th century the springs had a “reputation of quasi-miraculous curing powers”.(*2) So in 1672 work was begun to enlarge the Romanesque parish church of St. Blaise. When it was completed, on March 26, 1714, the dark walnut statue of Our Lady of the Sick was moved there from the monastery. 

Since the 18th century, Vichy has been frequented by French aristocrats. Kings and queens, including Napoleon III, saw to it that the city was frequently embellished. In the mid 20th century, the Pasha of Marakesh used to come here on vacation. So the place has become rather worldly. Great attention is placed on its opera, theaters, and casinos. Nonetheless, faith in the Black Madonna Our Lady of the Sick is still strong.

During the French Revolution, in November 1793, the statue was decapitated and its dresses, jewels, and crowns dispersed. An 11-year-old boy, Claude Baffier, saved the head. In 1801, with a new body, the Black Virgin was reinstalled in St. Blaise. The next year, the first of her torchlight processions through the old town was celebrated. They continue to this day, on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15th, around 8:30 p.m.(*3)

During the heyday of spa therapy between the world wars, demand outgrew the church of St. Blaise, and a new church was built adjoining it in 1931. The art deco concrete dome is a jewel box of mosaics, stained glass, and enamelwork. Atop it is a 16 foot tall statue of Our Lady of the Sick. Her bell tower was added in 1956 and is visible from everywhere in town. The Black Virgin, crowned on May 27, 1937, still receives homage in old St. Blaise.(*4)

Her chapel is decorated with a night sky. This calls to mind the Queen of the Night, but unlike Mozart’s or other Queens of the Night, this one is all good and holy. She rules the realms and dark areas of our lives that might scare us, but she herself is all comforter. She invites us to enter into darkness with courage and the confidence that we won’t be alone. 
The night sky in conjunction with the Queen of Heaven is also reminiscent of Nuit, the Egyptian goddess of the night. (For more information see introduction)

 Part of the amazing art deco mosaics inside the church. Mary as the co-redemptrix practically bears the cross with her son.

Part of the amazing art deco mosaics inside the church. Mary as the co-redemptrix practically bears the cross with her son.


*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, p. 234
*2: Wikipedia article on “Vichy
*3: “Patrimoine Vichy
*4: Info and two photos from article by Mary Ann Daly, Notre-Dame des Malades, Vichy, Allier, Auvergne, France

In

Vassiviere

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Vassivière:

Our Lady of Vassivière

The people of Vassivière say their town was named after the ancient Celtic site that it was. In this 'vas iver', Gallic for 'temple of water', the spirits of the local rivers and lake were honored. Mary, Queen of Heaven succeeded these water gods as the source of life. To this day there is a sacred fountain a few yards from the chapel in Vassivière.

The original church in the mountain hamlet of Vassivière stood until the 13th century and housed the predecessor of this Black Virgin. They say strange things were practiced here. We don't know what. All we have is a report from 1321 which informs the local authorities that the stones from the ruined church in Vassivière were given to the cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand a) because the church was totally ruined, b) because there were no funds for a priest to staff it, and c) because many "profane and inappropriate" things were committed in this place.(*1) Hmmm…. makes one wonder… Likely they were ancient, pagan practices. Or maybe something like in Rocamadour, where around the same time, the monks put an end to "some rather undesirable fertility rites."(*2) 

In any case, Vassivière must have been a somewhat important sanctuary to be built with stones good enough for the cathedral in Clermont-Ferrand. Yet for more than two hundred years only the niche with its black Madonna remained. She was considered the protector of travelers and no passerby failed to stop and pray before her image - none, until the Protestant reformation. In 1547 a merchant from Besse and two companions passed the Virgin. The merchant refused to acknowledge her majesty and mocked his fellow travelers' devotion. As punishment, he was immediately struck blind, whereupon he repented and promised to become the Black Mother's 'King of Devotion' if she only healed him. She did and he kept his promise. Through his testimony her fame spread.

More miracles happened and pilgrims flocked to the Madonna's mountain. Soon the Church decided that she would be better honored in the church of Besse-en-Chandesse, a town 8 km down in the valley. Here the priests could keep an eye on her, rather than leave her in the hands of the laity in her outdoor shrine in the cow herding hamlet. But each time the statue was brought down to more civilized environs, she escaped back to her mountain abode. The scenario was repeated three times, until a compromise was made that seemed acceptable to the Lady and is maintained to this day. A chapel was built for her in Vassivière, where she spends the summers. The rest of the year she is willing to be in Besse-en-Chandesse.

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When workers prepared the ground next to the old shrine in Vassivière for the little chapel to be built, a spring was uncovered that was immediately considered a sacred spring of Mary. It is enclosed by its own little oratory with its own little Black Madonna. And so the water spirits are still honored in Vas-iver, the temple of water.

That at least is the legend. The more 'enlightened' booklet sold in the sanctuary doesn't mention it. It recounts instead the struggle for control between the laity and the Church. The clergy didn't want that old pagan site revived without the supervision of a priest. The compromise included the stipulation that a priest must be in residence wherever the Madonna was going to be. The booklet also says that the sacred spring was probably not uncovered at the time of construction of the present day sanctuary, but was an ancient holy spring that was Christianized and incorporated into the sanctuary by setting it inside its little chapel with its own little Black Madonna.(*3)

 The chapel of the sacred spring (photos left and right: Kaaren Patterson)

The chapel of the sacred spring
(photos left and right: Kaaren Patterson)

 the Black Madonna in the chapel

the Black Madonna in the chapel

Each year in the early morning of July 2nd, the Madonna of Vassivière is carried on the shoulders of men in a solemn procession up to her mountain home at 1300 meters elevation. July 2nd is the 'feast of the visitation' when the biblical Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth "in the hill country" (Luke 1:39). God spoke to the Virgin about and through Elizabeth, whom he had chosen as a refuge, support, and inspiration for Mary. In commemoration of this visit, Mary of Vassivière goes into the hill country to be with another "cousin," the Earth, to be with her natural rhythms. She follows the cows, who are brought to their mountain pastures during the summer and back down into town during the colder months. 
As in many other wild and remote sanctuaries chosen by our Heavenly Mother, so too in Vassivière, Mary draws her children back to their earthly mother, Mother Nature. Mary needed Elizabeth and she knows that we need Mother Earth in the same way, as a refuge, support, inspiration, and messenger from God.
Her descent happens at nightfall on the first Sunday after the fall equinox (September 21st). It is accompanied by rifle shots, fire works, and parades. Once Our Lady is installed with all honor in her church, the worldly parties begin. There is music, theatre, cabaret, and lot's of food.

Though the previous incarnation of this Madonna was destroyed during the Revolution, the people made reparations by solemnly crowning her in 1881. This practice goes back to the 8th century. Since the 17th century all coronations of statues of the Blessed Mother must be approved by the Pope and carried out by him or a representative he appoints for the occasion.(*4)

Between 1547 and 1609 the clergy commissioned religious as well as secular authorities to research claimed miracles. Consequently 28 were classified as authentic miracles. By 1648 another 60 had been added to the list. One of Our Lady's specialty was to revive still-born babies at least long enough so they could be baptized. In 2008 I asked the local priest if any more miracles had happened recently. His answer was: "Of course, miracles happen all the time. The greatest miracle is when the heart opens."


*1: Philippe Auserve, "Notre-Dame de Vassivière", imprimerie Morillat à Besse, p. 8. A booklet for sale in the sanctuary in Vassivière.
*2: They involved the sword of Roland, the nephew of Emperor Charlemagne, who died fighting the Muslim occupation of Spain. Knowing that death was near, he tried to destroy his magical sword so that it would not fall into enemy hands, but it could not be done. When the archangel Michael came to take his soul, this messenger of God thrust the sword far from the batlle ground and it landed in the rock of Rocamadour. There it remained near the entrance of the Black Virgin's sanctuary. The fertility rites involved it and a lock from a chest that was situated below it. The monks finally moved the arousing objects to a place where they can still be seen but not touched. P. Clément Nastorg, (chaplain) "Rocamadour: admire, contemplate, pray", Éditions du Signe, Strasbourg: 2006, p. 17. 
*3: Philippe Auserve, "Notre-Dame de Vassivière", op. cit. p. 12-13
*4: ibid. p.27+29

In

Toulouse

Toulouse.jpg

In the Basilica of La Daurade, 1 Place de la Daurade, Haute-Garonne department, Midi-Pyrénées region, an 1806 reproduction of a much older statue destroyed during the Revolution, painted wooden bust, dressed up to look like a full size statue. 
photo: Madame Dulac

Toulouse:

La Daurade
Our Lady of Good Childbirth
(Notre Dame de la Délivrance) 
Until the 14th C.: Our Lady the Brown One (Notre-Dame la Brune)
since the 16th C.: Our Lady the Black One (Notre-Dame la Noire)


'Daurade' is a kind of fish and must be one of the strangest nick-names for a statue of the Blessed Mother. Yet it was skillfully chosen, because everybody will ask: "Why is Our Lady called La Daurade?" And then this ancient story has to be told from generation to generation:(*1)

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In 109 B.C. the Roman Consul Servilius Cepio drained the lake of Toulouse in search of the famous 'gold of Toulouse' that the Gauls had stolen from Delphi. Instead of discovering a worldly treasure however, the statue of a Dark Mother was found floating in the draining water. She was revered as a Pagan goddess until it was decided in 415 A.D., when all Pagan worship was outlawed, that she was really Mary the Mother of God.(*2) The present, late 18th century incarnation of her church still stands where the lake once was, on the banks of the river Garonne.

The statue known as the Brown One was stolen in the 14th century and replaced by a copy, which later became known as the Black One.

The Belt of the Black Madonna

Notice the inscription under La Daurade. It says in French: "Receive and wear this blessed belt as a sign of my maternal protection and as a pledge of a happy delivery." It refers to an ancient custom still practiced in Toulouse to this day: that of borrowing a belt or a piece of fabric from the Holy Virgin to lay it across the belly of a woman in labor. During the Middle Ages la Daurade became so famous for helping women in childbirth that Toulouse became a major pilgrimage center of France, sought out in particular by pregnant women.

According to Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet, it was an ancient Pagan practice to borrow a belt from a goddess and tie it across a woman’s belly during childbirth in order to ensure a quick and painless delivery. Both Isis and Hera were known to lend out their belts,(*3) and so was Mary. The “real” belt of the Virgin was venerated in Marsat (another Black Madonna shrine) since at least the 6th century, but only queens and princesses dared to borrow that one. Other women had to content themselves with the belts or mantels of miraculous statues of Mary, like la Daurade or the Black Madonna of Thuir.

Toulouse,Schutzmantel.jpg
Toulouse,Mantel.jpg

According to Michel Dagras the custom in Toulouse began with not only women in labor, but also sick people being covered by one of the mantels of Mary. You see, every famous Madonna statue had a great wardrobe of precious mantels that the faithful would offer her. Just like the priests, she had different color outfits that changed with the liturgical seasons of the church. Old mantels might get cut into several pieces so as to go out to more patients. Mary’s mantle stood for dignity and protection from evil. Under it the faithful hoped to share in their Mother’s dignity and to be protected from their own inner as well as outer evil. For centuries, the ‘Madonna of the protective mantel’ was a common “type”, i.e. a recurring theme in Catholic iconography.

The 15th century Austrian painting on the right is a great example: all of Christendom of the time, Pope and king, clergy and laity, rich and poor gather under Mary's mantel. An angel tries to shoot arrows of justice at the crowd, but they break on her mantel.

Well, with so many people wanting to get under a mantel of the Black Madonna of Toulouse there weren’t enough to go around. To make matters worse, her whole wardrobe was burnt during the Revolution. That’s when the Church resorted to mass producing belts that would be consecrated to the Virgin by praying and touching them to the miraculous statue for a while.

To this day a priest at the basilica will individually bless such birthing belts for specific women to help during labor. A mother will obtain the belt for her daughter, just like her mother did for her.(*4) They do so well before the baby’s due date so that wearing the belt keeps reminding the mother to pray Mary for grace. The white satin belt with an image of the Black One on it comes in an envelope together with a picture of la Daurade, a medal of her that one can wear, a candle to light as a symbol of one’s faith and prayers, Marian prayers such as the rosary and the Magnificat, as well as instructions on how to use the belt properly. They say: “What does the sign matter? Belt, medal, or candle are nothing if there is no heart in them! But when one loves, a nothing, a piece of fabric, renders a presence. It’s not magic, it’s prayer.”

If you don’t feel like asking for a belt in the basilica you can see an old one at the National Museum. It is inscribed with the words: “OH MARY, DIVINE MOTHER, PRAY FOR ME. PROTECT ME.”

The Miracles of the Black Madonna

In 1637 the Benedictines in charge of the church of La Daurade composed a book entitled: “Memoirs of the extraordinary things that happen to those who recommend themselves to the very holy Virgin who is conserved in the church of La Daurade in Toulouse.” According to this book La Daurade protects not only women in childbirth, but also those who fight for the Catholic faith, as well as all in need.

In 1631 when the Black plague was threatening the city, the inhabitants staged an elaborate procession of the Virgin called, ‘The descent of Our Lady the Black One.’ After that descent from the high altar down into the dirty streets, the disease gradually disappeared. From then on, whenever there was a serious calamity threatening Toulouse, whether drought or flood, the people brought their Dark Mother to descend among them.

But one day, on 8/18/1672, a terrible fire broke out outside of Toulouse. When it had destroyed 200 houses and was threatening the palace of parliament and the whole city, the archbishop armed himself with the Blessed Sacrament (i.e. a consecrated piece of bread that Catholics believe to carry the real presence of Christ). He personally took it to the place of destruction, all the while asking Jesus to put out the fire. To no avail; the fire raged on. So the faithful decided to bring out the Black Madonna instead. As soon as she arrived at the fire the wind changed and the flames quickly died down. Hmmm…. No one believed this was a coincidence, but what did it mean? To this day the theologians of Toulouse try to find an acceptable explanation. 
There is a mostly lovely article by Michel Dagras on the website of the Association for the Promotion of the Patronage of la Daurade in Toulouse entitled “Notre-Dame la Noir: pourquoi la ceinture?” Therein he warns not to take this event as proof that Mary is more powerful than Jesus and admonishes the faithful always to put Jesus before Mary. Yet he doesn’t offer any explanation. 

So let me try. Perhaps we have a situation like the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11) where Mary reported to Jesus: “They have no wine” and his response was not very compassionate: “Woman, how does your concern affect me?!” John’s Mary didn’t take no for an answer, but coerced her son into performing his first public miracle. To many this means that while our Savior died for the ultimate salvation of our souls, the nitty gritty problems of daily life in the world are better presented to our divine Mother, who cares for us on that level. Just like human mothers and fathers may play different roles in a child’s life, all of them being important, so too do Mary and Jesus.

However, to the devotees of Mary she is not only good for practicalities; she is their co-redemptrix, i.e. she together with Jesus redeems their souls. Maybe Jesus was more powerful in that regard to begin with, but according to what Mary says in many apparitions (including in Fatima) God decided to give equal responsibility for souls to Mary and Jesus. He seems to want them to work as equal partners. What if God the Father decided to leave the quenching of the fire in Toulouse up to Mary rather than Jesus, because he wanted his Church to heed the fifth commandment: “You shall honor your father and mother.” (Exodus 20:1-21) It doesn’t say anything about honoring one less than the other. In my experience they are like two sides of one coin.

More History

The history of La Daurade is inseparable from a famous confraternity founded in Toulouse in 1323 under the name of "Company of Gay Knowledge" (Companie du Gay Scavoir). Outwardly it was an academy that staged championships of troubadour poetry honoring the feminine in its pure earthly and heavenly forms. Their songs were full of praise of the Black Virgin and a mythical Lady Clémence Isaure, supposedly their founder and the ideal woman, a wonder of beauty, intelligence, and nobility. According to Jacques Huynen however, she really denotes Isis and all the children of the goddess who have realized the highest esoteric knowledge through a path of secret initiations.(*5)

In 1790, during the Reign of Terror following the French Revolution, Our Lady the Black One's triumphant processions were outlawed and the statue placed in a museum. After five years the secular authorities graciously decided to allow the statue's return to her church. But they didn't expect anything like the huge fervent crowds of faithful that pressed around their Mother. Horrified, they ordered the precious Madonna to be destroyed after all. It took another 12 years, till 1807, before a copy could be made and safely innstalled in her church. The event was celebrated again with a great processsion and to this day the cult of la Daurade is very much alive.(*6)


(*1) Others claim the name is a French pronunciation of the Latin "deaurata", gold-plated as in the decorations surrounding her. Maybe they'd rather forget the Pagan roots of their divine mother?
(*2) Ean Begg,The Cult of the Black Virgin, London, New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1985, p. 229
(*3) Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet, Vierges Noires, Editions du Rouergue, 2000, p. 146
(*4) Sophie Cassagnes-Brouquet, p.200+201, and Jacque Huynen, L'Enigme des Vierges Noires, Editions Jean-Michel Garnier, Chartres: 1994, p.201. (Not a mistake, both books happen to treat La Daurade on page 201.)
(*5) ibid., p.202-3
(*6) See Madame Dulac's fantastic site on sacred sites, which includes lists of Black Madonnas by departments of France.

 

In

Thuret

Thuir.jpg

In the village church. Thuret is between Vichy and Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dome department, Auvergne region, 17th century replacement of the 13th century original. 

Photo: Ella Rozett
Notice the lotus blossoms at her feet, an Indian symbol of enlightenment.

Our Lady of Thuret
The Virgin-Warrior of the Crusades

In the 13th century the seventh Crusade (1248-1254) was preached in the sanctuary of the famous Black Madonna of Le-Puy-en-Velay, in the presence of King Louis IX and the feudal lord of Thuret. The latter must have gone home with a copy of this Madonna in order to instill zeal for the "Holy War" in his subjects. All we know is that since that time a Black Virgin who looks just like the one that presently resides behind the main altar of Le-Puy, is honored in Thuret under the titles Virgin of the Crusades or Virgin-Warrior.

Several visitors have attested to the magical-mystical power of her church. Strange esoteric, masonic and pre-Christian symbols abound in this church. Many of them are explained in a photocopied booklet for sale in the church. It is René Chabrillat's "Thuret: its church mediates Christian initiation". 

The author explains what the monks who built this church meant to express: They were well aware of all the ancient wisdom traditions from Atlantis, Egypt, India, and Druidic France. All that is good in those teachings and which leads to God, they have incorporated into their Christian mysteries and represented in their church.

What is to be left outside the Christian Church is the God Dionysius with his orgiastic debaucheries. He is a lonely figure remembered outside, over the North entrance. As his followers pick grapes, phallic branches press into their groins. 
Over the South entrance, near Christ, there is the Fool somersaulting and holding a concave mirror. He warns the initiates not to enter the sacred space from the wrong direction. Perhaps this means, look at yourself in the mirror of your conscience and enter the Way only with the right determination and motivation.

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bachus.jpg
thuret.epona.jpg

Inside the church one finds the holy water stoup which shows a horse biting its tail. As when a snake is shown biting its tail, so this horse too symbolizes eternity. But this horse also denotes the Gallic mare-goddess Epona. She was a nurturing mother-goddess of fertility, depicted as a white mare, pure, heroic, self-sacrificing. She became the patron of horses and all who work with them, e.g. the Roman cavalry. From being a guide to all who traveled by horse, she was promoted to leading the deceased on their last great journey through the underworld. Chabrillat explains that her presence on the holy water stoup reminds us that this water is meant to make us pure like Epona so that we can approach God. (p.25)

A Merovingian sarcophagus reminds us of the legend that this dynasty descends from a supposed union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Though an older legend wants to trace the 'blue blood' of this dynasty to another set of human and divine parents. It states that the 5th century legendary Merovech, founder of the Merovingians, was the son of King Clodio's wife and a fabulous water creature related to the god Neptune. Before getting too exited about the "bloodline" of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, it might behoove us to remember that almost all royalty (whether European, Asian, or African) claims mythical or heavenly descent. Hence the concept of 'blue blood'. As in the case of the Merovingians, the idea is always used to justify the domination of others. Descending from Jesus seemed like the perfect reason to need to rule the world, which is precisely what the Merovingians had in mind.


*1: Ean Begg is very intrigued by this legend. He describes this dynasty as spiritual, but also acknowledges its political ambitions. Pp. 13-14 and 145-6. Jacque Huynen on the other hand characterizes the Merovingians as illiterate barbarians with a simplistic view of Christianity, which they imposed on others by the sword. They ruled France after the Germanic tribes had plunged Europe into the Dark Ages and put an end to the relative harmony that had been reached between Roman Christianity and Celtic religion. "L'Enigme des Vierges Noires", pp. 56-57 and 61.

In

Thuir

Thuir.jpg

Department Pyrénée-Orientales, region Languedoc-Roussillon,16 km SW of Perpignan, close to the Black Madonnas of Cuxa and Finestret, 50 cm, late 12th century, one of five statues cast in lead from a mold.

The Virgin of the Victory
(La Vierge de la Victoire)

The little old church lady who led me to the church of Our Lady of Victory knew nothing of a Black Madonna at her church. The little statue is hardly visible in her place of honor high above the altar, far from where ordinary people are allowed to go. It didn’t seem to me that she enjoys what Ean Begg calls “a living cult”, although according to him her feast day is celebrated on October 7th when Christian armies won an important victory over Muslim occupiers in 1571. If one believed some of the legends that have been told of her, she would meet many characteristics of a Black Madonna. However, they are contradictory.

Presumably there was an older Black Madonna in her place that was lost somehow. Some say it was brought from the Near East by a crusader by name of Sir Montmorin St Héreme. 
Another legend connects it to Charlemagne, who lived three centuries before the first crusade. It explains the title of the Lady as follows: One day, Charlemagne was in the valley of Thuir, ready to fight the Muslim invaders of Southern Europe. His troops however, worn down by heat and thirst, were on the point of surrender to the enemy. So the emperor placed the Madonna in the midst of his army, invoked her help, and thrust his sword into the sand of a dry river bed. Immediately a well of abundant water sprang forth and gave the Christian soldiers new strength. After receiving miraculous help from Heaven, they had no trouble defeating the enemy.

Having won the victory with the help of the Queen of Heaven, the emperor decided to found a monastery on the site of the miracle, which became known as the Monastery of the Camp.
Later the Muslims again invaded those parts of Europe and weren’t driven out so easily. Since they were prone to destroying “idols”, the statue was hidden from them. Once their reign had ended, a shepherd found the Madonna in a dense forest when he had ventured there in search of a lost animal. A chapel was built in her honor and around it the town of Thuir began to grow up. For several centuries she enjoyed great fame. The first mention of Marian devotion in Thuir is from the 13th century and the first record of this Black Madonna is from 1567. Every year a priest was elected to ceremoniously change her robes.

Ean Begg mentions that many healing miracles were attributed to this Lady’s intervention and that she was carried the ca. 25 km to the sea and dipped in the waters at Canet a couple of times in order to end a drought. (more on those kinds of Black Madonna rituals at les-saintes-maries-de-la-mer.htm

The Virgin of Victory was also invoked to help in difficult childbirths. For that purpose pieces of her robe were touched to women in labor. They are kept in the church to this day. (for more on “birthing belts” of Black Madonna go to Toulouse)

The statue survived the Revolution because a certain Mrs. Foussat hid her. 


Sources of information: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, pp. 226-7 and Lieux Sacrées

In

Saint Guiraud

Saint_Guiraud.jpg

In her chapel in the center of the village, about 40 km and 40 min West of Montpellier and 20 min North of Pézenas (another Black Madonna site), Hérault department, Languedoc-Roussillon region. Any villager will tell you who has the key to let you in, 10th century, 70cm, formerly painted wood.

Photos: Ella Rozett

Our Lady the Black One
(Notre Dame la Noire)
Our Lady of Consolation

Here you see what happens when you don't renovate wooden statues once in a while. This Black Madonna is so worm eaten that you can barely make out the face and of baby Jesus only a little stump is left. If she wasn't dressed like a queen, you'd take her for a piece of fire wood. And yet this very ancient Madonna emanates a powerful energy and has been reputed as a miracle worker for about a thousand years.

Saint_Guiraud2.jpg

The earliest written record of a church in the village dates from 1101. The little old church lady who guards the key to the chapel told me in 2009 that those records already mention a statue being taken on a procession. We assume it was this same Dark Mother. Tradition says that she was brought to France from the Holy Land by a pious crusader around 950 A.D. Scholars think that she may be a 14th century replacement of the original.*

By the 15th century her chapel was one of three main pilgrimage sites in the county and the oldest one of them. Our Lady the Black One was famous for her miracles " and the affluence of her visiters ".
A 16th century chronic of the bishops of Lodève recounts that after the statue had been hidden during a time of wars, the bishop ordered it to be reinstalled in its chapel.

On May 14th 1855, Pope Pius IX declared Our Lady's sanctuary a "priviledged altar ". At that point she was moved from her original place above the entrance to a place of honor above the altar. Some time later she was relegated to the back of the chapel and placed on "a vulgar pedestal". Her present niche to the left of the altar was built in 1896, supposedly to honor and protect her.

Her feast day procession is celebrated on September 8th and the old folks still have miracle stories to tell about their Black Madonna.

If you are in the area, don't miss one of France's most beautiful villages, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, 15 minutes North-East and the fully preserved Knights Templar town La Couvertoirade 30 minutes to the North.


* A French, Catholic site called "Under the Sign of Saint Michael" (http://s.st.michel.free.fr) published an article on 2/25/08 entitled "Visite de lieux saints à Saint Guiraud et à Saint Saturnin de Lucian " All quotes in this article are taken from there.

In

Saint-Gervazy

Saint-Gervazy.jpg

Saint-Gervazy lies 6 km SW of Saint-Germain-Lembron, Puy-de-Dôme department, Auvergne region, 2nd half of 12th century, 76cm, painted wood.
Photo: Francis Debaisieux

Our Lady of Saint-Gervazy

 


No miracles or other "special effects" are reported about this Virgin. During the Middle Ages she was obtained by the Saint-Gervazy family and brought to their little castle by the same name. Later she was moved into the charming little village church that had been erected in the 10th or 11th century.

This Madonna is revered for her beauty and classic Romanesque style. Like many other Black Madonnas, she was stolen out of her church. But this one was found again 17 years later, in the year 2000. By that time she had changed owners 5 times, so that the people of Saint-Gervazy were forced to buy her back.(*1)

dolmen.jpg

About ½ mile outside the village you'll find this ancient stone structure, a dolmen, under an oak tree.(*2) This may not be a coincidence. Several Black Madonnas are associated with pre-Christian sacred stones. (e.g. Le Puy, Mauriac, and Saint Nectaire) They inherited their sacred sites from druidic times. How did the druids (Celtic priests) use dolmens? We don't really know. Most people think they were collective Neolithic burial chambers, built in Europe between the 5th and the 3rd millennium B.C., before there were druids. One dolmen often sheltered the remains of generations of people, like our family graves.

Some scholars conjecture that dolmens were altars used for sacrifices and other rituals. The word is a Gallic expression from Brittany meaning stone table, which supports the latter use.
It is conceivable that the druids used these ancient burial chambers as altars, especially where they hadn't served as tombs in hundreds of years and where they may mark special earth energy fields. There is archeological evidence for both uses.(*3)

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It is just one of those "coincidences" that after spending some time at the dolmen of Saint-Gervazy and wondering about its use, we stopped at a post office in a nearby village. While waiting in line I noticed a display of little 8 page guides on such varied themes as the Israelites, the Gaul's, the solar system, mushrooms, stress, aroma therapy, mathematics, etc. I picked up "les Gaulois" and found this depiction of a dolmen. It shows Gaul's during their most holy ritual: the harvest of mistletoe from a majestic oak tree. Standing on a dolmen, a druid dressed in white robes uses a golden sickle to cut the mistletoe, considered the sex organ of this most sacred of trees. The juice pressed from its berries was seen as divine sperm, which rejuvenated and healed many ailments.(*4) So that's why we get to kiss whomever we meet under mistletoe during advent - we must express the sex drive of that ancient God!


*1: See website of the Association Vierge Noire de Saint Gervazy, www.avnsg.free.fr/home.htm
*2: Leaving the church on your right, head out of the village, bear left at Y intersection, turn right at the T intersection, then left at the sign that says 'dolmen'.
*3: see article on 'dolmen' in fr.wikipedia.org
*4: Les Gaulois, Petit Guide, Aedis Editions, Vichy: 2007, p. 7 and Michèle Bilimoff, "Les plantes, les homes et les dieux", Editions Ouest-France, Rennes: 2006, p. 26

In

Ronzieres

Ronzieres,Mark.jpg

In her sanctuary above the village, which lays half way between St. Gervazy and Vassivière. 9 km SW of Issoire, Puy-de-Dôme department, Auvergne region, 13th century?, 60 cm, painted wood. Photo: Mark Veermans

Our Lady of Brambles
(Notre Dame de Ronzières)

 

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This is one of those poor Black Virgins who had her color stolen. She was restored to her original pigmentation of 800 years ago, but if you ask me, "face lifts" don't work - not on people and not on ancient statues. Antiques and ancient art should be restored without removing the patina that gives them character and value. In spite of her touched up face and the fact that you can barely see her in the niche where she is kept behind two sets of bars, she is still considered a Black Madonna and her shrine is still worth a visit. Here is why:

The hill of her sanctuary lays half way between two of her famous sisters, the Black Madonnas of St. Gervazy and Vassivière. (Driving from St. Gervazy to Vassivière via Ronzières takes about 70 minutes.) Her hill overlooks a great plain and is steeped in ancient history. Early Medieval walls fortify her Romanesque church and enclose an area that comprises remnants of dwellings from the time of the Roman occupation before the Christian era.

 Photo by  Jean Dif

Photo by Jean Dif

Madam Dulac, on her magnificent French website on "Sacred Sites" points out architectural elements of a pre-Christian temple in the church of the Black Madonna (see fotos on right). 
Ronzières also lies on one of the pilgrimage routes to Santiago de Compostella. A tiny cabin at the foot of the Madonna's hill can still offer refuge to a couple of pilgrims.

 Photo by  Jean Dif

Photo by Jean Dif

What qualifies this lady as a Black Madonna in my mind is her connection to earth elements, a distant Pagan past, and the reputation of being a miracle worker. 
There is a revered lime tree next to the church, under which mass is celebrated on the Sunday closest to September 8th. The Black Madonna is brought out for this occasion, a tradition that goes back "a very, very long time", according to a lady of the parish. Nobody remembers what makes this tree special, except that its roots are ancient. Most of the tree itself has died, but new suckers have grown into its second or third incarnation.

Legend recounts that Our Lady of Brambles was installed in this place by a saintly priest called Baudimus (Baudime in French). He was a Christian hero who lived around 300 A.D. Pope Fabian sent him with a group of missionaries from Rome to evangelize Gaul (France). He and his brother or very close friend St. Nectarius (Nectaire) ended up in the Auvergne. Their way of "evangelizing" by hostile take over of Pagan holy sites, plunged them into conflict with the local population. St. Nectaire turned a temple of Apollo into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. To this day the church sits on Mount Cornadore, a hill top surrounded by a circle of six dolmens and menhirs about one km in diameter. Saint Nectaire ended up getting killed by a Pagan chieftain. Both, Baudimus and Nectarius are buried in the church Saint Nectaire, about 10 km from Ronzières as the crow flies. That church houses another whitened Black Madonna.

 The reliquary bust of St. Baudime

The reliquary bust of St. Baudime

Baudimus found an ancient spring in Ronzières that was dedicated to the fairies and, much like his brother, dedicated it instead to Mary the Queen of Heaven. He erected a chapel over the spring, placed this statue in it and preached the Gospel there. From then on, say the Christians, the spring ran with healing water.

Apparently the spirits of the earth weren't too thrilled with this take over, for soon the saint had to do battle with a dragon. We know that in Asia dragons are believed to live underground, as the guardians of the earth and its watercourses. But in Europe too there were dragons without wings, called Lind worm, or simply worm. The German word Lindwurm conveys the idea of beautifully glinting gold or silver scales. These represented the "telluric forces", veins of energy running in the earth, called "veins of the dragon".

 Mary holding a tamed dragon like a lap dog, a very rare type, Chartres relief on the "royal gate".   

Mary holding a tamed dragon like a lap dog, a very rare type, Chartres relief on the "royal gate". 
 

In Christian thinking the dragon represents the forces of evil that, along with the forces of good, suffuse the world and every human heart. It is the shadow, the dark side. The time of dragon slayers was a time when humanity still hoped evil could be vanquished once and for all in a battle with outside forces. The followers of Jesus at the time of St. Baudime expected that the Kingdom of Heaven could be established on earth by spreading Christian rule everywhere. With the centuries, that proved to be not so and dragon slayers became something of the distant past. People understood that evil was not something outside of ourselves, but an inner force everybody had to grapple with. When we learned to recognize and integrate our own shadows, formerly white Madonnas became honored as black. Eventually they arose from their thrones and stood on living snakes (the dragons of old). Sweetly smiling, they hold the living snake in its place under their naked feet, as if to teach us not to fear nor fight our shadow, but to make peace with it by mastering and keeping it in its proper place.
But in the 4th century Christians still engaged in outer religious battle against evil, which they saw manifested in Pagan religions and the dark forces of the earth. And so Baudimus' dragon was said to be a hideous monster which lived in a crevice of the cliff of Ronzières and terrorized the local towns. During a fierce battle between the saint and the dragon the monster left its claw marks in a rock that can still be seen on the path near the spring of the fairies. Before it was defeated, the beating of its tail caused the South part of the plateau to cave in. That's what they say.

 the 'step of the ox'

the 'step of the ox'

After that there was peace, maybe for a hundred years, then "the dragon" reared its ugly head again. This time it was in the form of the "barbaric invasions" into the Roman Empire that lasted from the 3rd to the 5th century. Saint Baudimus's chapel was destroyed during one of these orgies of death and destruction and his Madonna disappeared. Yet the people didn't forget that the place was holy and many centuries later the statue reappeared, now a Black Madonna. According to Ean Begg this happened in the 11th century.* As so often, Heaven used an ox to point out where the precious treasure lay buried in the earth. It is said that an ox got his foot stuck in a whole in a rock. When the cowherd came to his aid, he discovered the Black Madonna under the animals' foot. To this day, girls who are looking for a husband slip their foot into the "step of the ox" and deposit an offering of flowers right there or in the church.

You may find the step of the ox, the foot print of the dragon's claws and the fairies' spring if you follow the little path that leads down the hill behind the church. It is part of the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostella.

 the fairies' spring

the fairies' spring

 the path to it

the path to it

The place the unmarried maidens seek is not too far down from the church, in the middle of the path. To get to the spring, you have to go all the way down the hill, then turn left off of the path. The claw marks are in the middle of the path, near the spring. It takes a bit of attentive looking and tuning into the spirit of the place to find these land marks. Look for tilted up stones that mark the way and for little green dots that mark the rocks (see top right in picture). Good luck!

 the "claw marks of the dragon"

the "claw marks of the dragon"

A couple of miracles attributed to the Black Madonna are still fondly remembered in the parish: In 1911 a little girl was healed against all expectation during a mass that her grandfather had asked to be celebrated for her in Ronzières.

In the 19th century the Madonna revealed to a boy that he was called to be a priest. It didn't make sense at the time because the lad had a handicap that precluded him from qualifying for the priesthood. In time however, he was miraculously healed by Don Bosco, a saintly Italian priest. Hence he could fulfill the Virgin's revelation. 


* Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, p.217.

In

Rocamadour

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In her sanctuary, near Quercy, Lot department, Midi-Pyrénées, 9th - 12th century (?) though attributed to St. Luke, wood used to be covered in blackened silver of which some strips are still in place, 66 cm.

Our Lady of Rocamadour
(Notre-Dame de Rocamadour)
Our Lady of the Poor
(Notre-Dame des Pauvres)


As a Christian holy site Rocamadour dates back to the 10th century, but as a young priest giving a tour pointed out in 2008: "People have been praying here for 20,000 years." Indeed just up the hill in the next village over, one can visit a cave with traces of neolithic sacred paintings. 
In the Middle Ages the sanctuary of the Black Madonna became an important point on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. Many saints, kings, and queens have come here seeking the blessings of the Queen of Heaven, most notably St. Bernard of Clairveaux. 
This spectacular site is set in the rocky side of a steep river gorge. In 1166, the remains of a certain Blessed Amadour were found here, buried next to a cave oratory dedicated to Mary. Hence the name Roc-Amadour. 
One legend says the man was the servant of the Blessed Mother and like a nanny and tutor to Jesus. They met when the Holy Family was on their flight to Egypt. Amadour owned a field of grain that miraculously grew tall enough to hide the fugitives from Herod's henchmen. Before Mary left this world, she recommended that, upon her assumption, Amadour go to live as a hermit in France. He did as he was told and took with him this statue, which Luke the Evangelist had carved. When he arrived in the river gorge of Rocamadour, he placed the holy image in a cave dedicated to a pre-Christian trinity of goddesses. Thus he stopped the human sacrifice practiced there and Christianized the place. But, similar to Le Puy, there is still a druidic stone under the altar.

Another legend claims this Amadour, besides being all of the above, was also none other than Zacchaeus, the disciple of Jesus mentioned in the Bible. This story gives him a wife, Veronica, the woman who, according to a very common tradition, wiped the face of Jesus during his passion. 

During the Wars of Religion the bones of Amadour were literally pulverized and scattered. Now only his empty tomb remains.

 Our Lady of Rocamadour, photo: Ella Rozett

Our Lady of Rocamadour, photo: Ella Rozett

The Black Madonna of Rocamadour may not be a pretty statue, but it is one of the most powerful, famous, and ancient ones. Our Mother often challenges us not to judge with worldly eyes and not to reject something as not holy because it doesn't satisfy our mundane expectations. Our Lady of the Poor reminds us, "Blessed are the poor in spirit."

Once you meet her in person, she seems perfectly elegant and beautiful. Through the eyes of the devotee she looks like the queen in this modern icon, which hangs in the crypt.

In the 12th century a collection of 126 reported miracles attributed to Our Lady of Rocamadour was compiled and many more have been recounted since. She has healed the sick and insane, punished criminals, threatened and converted those who did not respect her, won battles for her followers, brought dead babies back to life at least long enough to be baptized, freed captives, protected sailors, helped women conceive and give birth, and performed just about every other imaginable miracle.

Here is one of those 12th century stories:

Three pilgrims from Gosa were passing through the lonely wastelands near Saint-Guilhem, when they were led astray by thieves along remote and impassable tracks, over steep mountains and along valley floors. The robbers treated these innocent people injuriously and attempted to steal the property belonging to these poor of Christ. But the advocate of all mankind, the powerful Lady of Rocamadour, the exceptional star who lights up the world with her radiance, came to the aid of her servants as they called out to her. As was proper, she seized hold of the servants of iniquity, these workers of wickedness, and took away their sight, which is a human being's most cherished asset. She also paralyzed their hands and rendered them immobile like statues, out of pity leaving them only with the use of their tongues so that they could ask for mercy and express heartfelt penitence. And so with suppliant cries the robbers fell at the pilgrims' knees and asked that they placate the Lady, who is gentle but had been offended by their misdeeds, with their prayers and merits. The pilgrims were moved by the plight of the afflicted men, and their hearts were touched. They got down on the ground to pray, raised their voices to heaven, and asked the Lady of Mercy to take pity on the wretches. Then the unique Mother of Compassion, the people's hope for the forsaken who broke the necks of the dragon, the restorer of health, restored the thieves' senses and returned their bodies to their former health.(*1)

 photo: Ella Rozett

photo: Ella Rozett

A special feature of Rocamadour is this unusual bell on the ceiling of the Black Madonna's chapel. People say it rings at the moment when Our Lady saves someone whose life was threatened, especially when that someone is a sailor. Many stories recount how men at sea had implored the Black Madonna of Rocamadour to save them from a storm. They promised to undertake a pilgrimage to her sanctuary if she'd spare their lives. Months later, when they arrived to fulfill their promise and told their story, the priests would say something like, 'Oh, so it was you for whom the bell tolled, letting us know that someone in distress at sea was being saved! We were expecting your arrival.' A stone plaque on the wall lists fifteen years between 1385 and 1617 when the miraculous bell rang without human intervention.


*1: Translated and analyzed by Marcus Bull, The Miracles of Our Lady of Rocamadour, Boydell Press, Woodbridge, UK: 1999, pp. 146-7

In

Riom

Riom black madonna.jpg

In the church by the same name, center of town, Rue du Commerce, 63200 Riom, department Puy-de-Dôme in the Auvergne, 17th century version of original venerated by St Louis in 1262,(*1) painted wood, about 80 cm, open daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (5 p.m. in the winter, closed 12 -2) photo: Ella Rozett

Our Lady of Marthuret (Notre-Dame-du-Marthuret)

 

There are two important statues of the Mother of God venerated in this church and they often get mixed up: the Black Madonna Our Lady of Marthuret and the White Madonna Our Lady of the Bird (Vierge a l’oiseau).

The original Black Madonna is older than Our Lady of the Bird, but since the latter is of a rare beauty and expressiveness the locals seem to appreciate her more these days.(*2) The name of the church and the Black Madonna go back to the very beginning of the 14th century, when this building was erected on the property of Marc de Langheac, Lord of Thuret.(*3) That church replaced the original chapel, which burnt down in 1247 and housed the original Black Madonna, which, according to Ean Begg was venerated by St. Louis, King of France, in 1262. Many times after that first fire, the church was severely damaged by natural and manmade catastrophes, but it was always rebuilt and always included a Black Madonna with the title Our Lady of Marthuret.

Riom, vierge a l'oiseau.jpg

According to a plaque on the wall, Our Lady of the Bird (1 m 58 cm high) may not have been moved to this church until after the Revolution, but it was sculpted around the turn of the 14th to the 15th century. The butchers’ guild saved it from destruction by the revolutionaries by hiding it in a basement.

Riom Our Lady of the bird.jpg

“Our Lady of the Bird” is a type of Madonna that became popular in the late Middle Ages. It was inspired by the 2nd century apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas the Israelite, which includes a story about the child Jesus forming birds out of clay and breathing life into them. The famous Black Madonna of Einsiedeln, Switzerland is such a Madonna.

In the 19th century, this statue was grey washed and installed on the outside at the entrance of the church. In 1932 the original was brought inside to protect her from the elements, while a copy took her outside place. In 1991 the grey wash was removed to reveal her original colors.


Footnotes
*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, p. 215
*2: The French Wikipedia site on the city of Riom talks only about this statue, without mentioning the Black Madonna: fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riom 
*3: http://www.archipicture.free.fr/france/auvergne/puy_dome/riom18.html

In

Prats-de-mollo

Prats-de-Mollo.jpg

In her church of the same name, region Languedoc-Roussillon, department Pyrénées-Orientales, 13 km from Spanish border crossing. Church closes at 7 p.m., 9th - 13th century. photo: Madame Dulac

Notre-Dame d'El Coral
(Our Lady from the Heart of the Oak?) (*1) 

 

Prats-de-Mollo is a beautiful, ancient town of 1,000+ inhabitants with very good energy.

As so many Black Madonnas this one too was restored to her original fair skin color and discovered miraculously in the 13th century. But her history begins at the end of the Muslim occupation of Southern France in 811 C.E. In that era many Christian hermitages sprung up in remote areas, in part as a way of reclaiming those lands for Christendom. One such hermitage was established in Miralles, the original home of this Black Madonna, about 10 km from Prats-de-Mollo. The monks erected a little chapel and placed in it a Madonna. A village grew around the sanctuary, but after some time the hermitage and chapel were abandoned and fell into ruin. Someone placed the Madonna into her oak tree and then she was forgotten. (Maybe the locals had preferred being Muslim?) 

Centuries later a herdsman was attracted to her by his bull, who wouldn’t stop mooing in front of her tree.(*2) Other miracles must have followed because all of a sudden great devotion to Our Lady from the Heart of the Oak spread in the area. A church was built for her on the very spot where the old chapel had been and the hermitage was reopened. It kept having to expand to accommodate all the pilgrims. The first written record of a church called Sancta Maria de Coral is from the year 1267. Her cult continued uninterrupted until the French Revolution when all church property was confiscated by the state. In 1790 the statue was auctioned off to the highest bidder. Luckily she was not burnt like so many other Black Madonnas. A group of Catholics from Prats-de-Mollo bought her with the intent to keep her cult alive. The village Miralle didn’t survive without its heavenly mother. All that is left of it is the hermitage that is still called after her even though since 1931 it is no longer a sanctuary but just a hostel and country inn. 

Many Black Madonnas are venerated in the vicinity of healing waters and this one is no exception. Only a few kilometers away lies the spa town La Preste. In the 14th century, people with leprosy used to bathe in the ’Leper’s pool’ to help relieve their symptoms. Now they come for urinary tract illnesses.

 photos: Marylou Hillberg: her church against the evening sky

photos: Marylou Hillberg: her church against the evening sky

 the 14th century church ramparts.

the 14th century church ramparts.

 St. Columba blessing her bear

St. Columba blessing her bear

The Virgin and the Bear

Ean Begg mentions an annual Bear Festival, which he describes as the continuation of a Pagan Bear cult.(*3) He seems to have a point. Bears are somehow imprinted in the psyche of the people of this region. Not far from Prats-de-Mollo, across one or two mountains, lies Finstret with its own Black Madonna and a statue of St. Columba with her bear. Saint Columba of Sens was born around 257 in Spain and beheaded in France in 273 for being a Christian. It is reported that, at the age of 16, she fled Spain for Gaul (modern France) to escape the persecutions of Emperor Aurelian, but to no avail. While she was in prison, one of the guards tried to rape her. He was stopped by a bear, a fellow prisoner who was held to serve as one of the wild beasts that were to devour Christians and other prisoners in the arena. She still was martyred, but with her virginity in tact and thankful to a bear. Hence we see her blessing the bear at her feet. Likely that whole story was invented to give a Christian justification for images of a sacred woman with a bear.

The virgin and bear theme comes up again in local bear festivals that have been celebrated for centuries, and in some form probably for millennia. They are still held in three villages of Vallespir, the name of this area: Prats-de-Mollo, d'Arles-sur-Tech and Saint Laurent de Cerdans. The festivities were traditionally linked to the Virgin Mary by celebrating them on one of her high holidays: Candlemas, also known as the Purification of the Virgin, on Februar 2nd. In modern times they are held more towards the end of February, followed by three days of Carneval (Mardi Gras) festivities.

The Vallespir website explains the festival like this: It is a fun initiation ritual marking the passage from youth to adult life. The background story is this: Once upon a time a bear stole a young shepherdess and carried her off to his cave. He wanted to rape her, but as long as she kept praying to Notre-Dame d’El Coral he couldn’t touch her. His roars of frustration alerted the girl’s fellow shepherds as to her whereabouts. A hunting party was put together, the bear was captured, brought into the village and tamed to the point where he would help with work.
The task that remains is to tame in similar fashion the young men of the region. Once a year they dress up as bears, smearing their skin with the same soot that has turned so many Madonnas black. All afternoon they run around accosting as many villagers as they can and smearing them with this black oily substance. Of course they are especially after the young girls of eligible age. Always in hot pursuit is a group of “hunters” or “barbers” dressed all in white. By evening the bears are all captured, chained, washed, and humanized: they are shaven and taught to dance and eat a traditional black pudding. The day ends with the “bear dance”.

 a senior bear...  photo: tresvents.fr

a senior bear...
photo: tresvents.fr

 and his cubs. photo:  Fete de l'Ours

and his cubs.
photo: Fete de l'Ours


Footnotes
*1: A French website on the history of Roussillon proposes 4 very different explanations and translations for her name. I find Our Lady from the heart of the Oak the most likely because it goes with the legend, which means that’s the meaning the local populace has been seeing in her name for centuries. The author explains that in Old French the word for Couer de chêne (heart of an oak tree) was coral.
*2: For more on the relationship of bulls and Black Madonnas see Olot.
*3: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985, p.212

English sources: http://www.anglophone-direct.com/Fete-de-l-Ours-Prats-de-Mollo

French sources: http://www.tresvents.fr/tradition/fete-ours.php and http://histoireduroussillon.free.fr/Thematiques/Batiments/Histoire/ErmitageNotreDameDuCoral.php

In

Pézenas

Pezenas,portrait.jpg

Pézenas is in the Hérault department of the Languedoc-Rousillion region. The original is in the treasury/museum behind Collegiale Saint Jean's church at the Place du Marché, usually open daily 3-6 p.m. The copy that is venerated as the presence of Notre-Dame la Noire is in Sainte Ursule's church in the Rue Henri Reboul, open only during mass on Fridays at 9 a.m., 12th century or older, darkened cedar wood/painted wood, 60 cm.
photo: Marylou Hillberg

 Our Lady the Black One
(Notre-Dame la Noire)

The Virgin of Bethlehem
(la Vierge de Bethléem)

 

Tradition says that Our Black Lady washed ashore somewhere in France where a sailor from Pézenas found her and brought her to his home town. However, an 18th century manuscript written by a certain Officer Poncet claims that a Commander of the Pézenas chapter of the Knights of St. John brought two Black Madonnas back from a Crusade. Presumably he “found” them together on the island of Rhodes. The Knights of St John are also known as the Hospitallers or the Knights of Malta. When the Knights Templar were eradicated in 1312, much of their property went to the Hospitallers who had many parallel characteristics. Since their first military action on Rhodes ended in 1310, one can conjecture that the statue is at least from the 12th century. Since the knight who brought her to Frnace was originally from Toulouse, he gave one of the statues to the church of La Daurade in Toulouse and the other to his order’s church in Pézenas (Saint Jean de Jérusalem’s)

Ean Begg states that Napoleon III “dedicated a (perpetual) lamp in her shrine to gain her support for his army (…) against the Turks in 1860.”(*1) However long before him, the people of Pézenas already set up a perpetual lamp for their black Mother and had this important act of recognizing her divinity notarized on May 18th 1340. So we know her cult to be at least that old. (For more on perpetual lamps dedicated to Mary read in the introduction under the sub-heading “Christian and non-Christian Feminist views”.)

 the original in the museum

the original in the museum

 the one in Sainte Ursule, photo: Lena Robinson

the one in Sainte Ursule, photo: Lena Robinson

In 1412 the Confraternity of Our Lady was founded. Confraternities are usually all male affairs and serve to foster a particular devotion. In 1694 a women’s Confraternity of Our Lady of Bethlehem was established in the Ursuline convent, under the auspices of their priest of course. Both organizations shared the same intention of ensuring honor and devotion to the Black Madonna of Pézenas. They would organize great processions on annual feast days and also during times of special needs, e.g. during severe droughts, floods, or epidemics. Countless miracles are attributed to this Madonna, especially during the course of such processions, where the whole town would pour into the streets: simple lay people and aristocrats, monks and nuns, high ranking clergy and secular authorities. Poncet, the author of her annals, says about one such procession held as an urgent plea for rain: “I remember seeing with my own eyes that the rain sometimes didn’t even wait to fall till the image had been returned to its church.” (*2)

During the Revolution the statue escaped destruction, but not without a scratch. Mary lost her right hand and both feet; Jesus was scalped and also lost his right hand. The church of the Maltese order, which she had inhabited, was destroyed and Our Lady left among the ruins. Taking her life into her hands, Madame Vidal, a pious woman, asked a revolutionary if she could take “that worm eaten piece of wood as a toy for my grandkids”. When he agreed, she hid the statue under her smock and brought her to the priest who was at the head of the women’s confraternity headquartered at the Ursuline convent. After the Revolution, when the convent church doubled as a parish church, it was decided to keep it as the permanent home of Our Black Lady.

Notice her smile. Not many Black Madonnas smile. Supposedly she wears an Egyptian hairdo under her veil.



Footnotes
1. Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Penguin Books, London: 1985 p. 211
2. When I visited the Black Madonna of Pézenas in 2009 a little, old church lady took me to her front door and let me wait outside while she went up to her apartment and copied two chapters of a book on her home town for me. I didn’t dare send her back upstairs to get me the name of the author and the book. All I can tell you is that the chapters are called “La Vierge Noire” and “Une Ville d’États”. Unless otherwise marked, all information in this entry comes from the chapter “La Vierge Noire”. This quote is on p.85

In

Paris

Paris,Queen-of-Peace.jpg

In the convent church of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, 35 rue de Picpus, metro station Nation, open daily 9:30-12:00, 2-4, 6-7, 16th century, 33cm, wood.

1. Queen of Peace
Our Lady of Peace

 

This Queen of Peace is quite an aristocratic lady. It is believed that she was a wedding gift by Jean de Joyeuse to his wife in 1518. The house of Joyeuse intermarried with French royalty and according to Ean Begg this Black Madonna "has more associations with the aims of the Merovingian blood-line in the 16th and 17th centuries than any other Black Virgin."(1) I suppose this fact is interesting to those who think that the Black Madonnas are a secret disguise for Mary Magdalene, the spouse of Christ who bore his child, from whom the Merovingians descended. Personally, as I explain in more detail under "Thuret" and in my article on "Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene", I'm not impressed with this story. Too many royal blood-lines, from Africa to Tibet and Europe want to trace their origins into Heaven. If you ask me, it's simple self-aggrandizement with the aim of justifying an insatiable hunger for power. 

In any case, Henri de Joyeuse inherited the statue in 1576. He was a religious man who wanted to become a monk, but was obliged instead to marry a pious princess. The two vowed to each other before this Madonna, that should one of them die, the other would enter monastic life. It didn't take long. The princess succumbed after giving birth to her first child, a daughter. Within less than a month Henri joined the Capuchins and built a chapel for his beloved Madonna in their monastery. Upon his death he left the Black Virgin and her chapel to the order. And so she became the Madonna of the Capuchins.

But the order didn't appreciate her nearly as much as her previous owners did. Soon the monks destroyed the chapel of the Black Madonna in order to enlarge their monastery. They didn't seem to have room in their inn for her and relegated her to an outside niche over the entrance. There she spent about 60 years, almost completely ignored. Only two humble friars showed her devotion and liked to decorate her with flowers, and a few noble ladies used to offer her candles.

The hour of the Madonna came during the so called "Thirty Years War" which was actually a series of wars that stretched from 1610-60. It began as a war of religion between Protestants and Catholics, but turned into a struggle for power among almost all the European dynasties. By 1651 the Parisians were really tired of it. In anguish they turned to the Black Madonna holding the golden olive branch, an old symbol for peace. Her niche was just a few steps from the King's court. Here the people started to gather and cry: "Our Lady of Peace, pray for us! Queen of Peace, help us!" It seems they wanted their calls heard not only in Heaven, but also on earth, in the palace next door. Just as the wars were a mixture of religious and secular conflict so these gatherings in the streets also became a mixture of peace march and processions. Hymns were sung, litanies recited, and people began to gather from all over Paris. If not the French King, at least the Queen of Heaven heard her children. During processions one started hearing the cry: "A miracle!" "A miracle!" as sudden healings multiplied. And so the people found a measure of peace in their hearts even as the outer wars raged on. 

Since the Madonna of the Capuchins had found her calling as the famous Queen of Peace she deserved better than a niche in the monastery wall. As her fame spread people blamed the order of monks for leaving Our Lady out in the cold, in the street. Several priests offered churches in Paris that would have been happy to house her more honorably. The archbishop had to intervene.

The quarrel was settled when the Capuchins moved the statue into a church near the tomb of Henri de Joyeuse, who had loved her so much. Now that the people had more access to her, Our Lady became the Parisians' most beloved place of meeting their heavenly Mother. Their devotion was rewarded with still more miracles. As ever bigger crowds gathered in her church, the descendents of Henri de Joyeuse remembered their ties to this sacred treasure and his granddaughter decided to have a bigger church built for it. In 1657 the new church was inaugurated and "all of Paris" attended the celebration, including the "Sun King" Louis XIV. 
A year later the king fell gravely ill, his mother prayed the Queen of Peace to heal him and her prayer was answered. With that the reputation of the Parisian Black Madonna spread all the way to Rome and the Pope gave permission to grant plenary indulgences to all who attended mass in her sanctuary on her special feast day, 9th of July. 

Until the Revolution she was invoked for peace in France, peace in the world, peace in families and individual hearts. But from 1790-1806 she had to be hidden by several individuals while the Capuchins were chased from their properties. When peace returned to the city, it was decided that the nuns of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary were worthy of housing the Black Queen. They made her their patron and spread her fame and copies of her image literally all over the world, on all continents and numerous islands, wherever they had convents and schools. E.g. the cathedral of Honolulu, Hawaii is dedicated to her and in Bolivia she is called La Negrita, the Dear Black One.

She was canonically crowned in 1906 and the 9th of July is still her feast day. Plus every first Saturday of the month a special rite is celebrated in all her convents: each member of the congregation and all present are blessed by having the statue (or a copy of it) touched to the top of their heads.

 Rhea and her son Pluto

Rhea and her son Pluto

 a drawing of the Queen of Peace, showing her hair style

a drawing of the Queen of Peace, showing her hair style

This article is based on information taken from the July 1999 issue of "Horizons blancs" the magazine of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Interestingly enough they include this image of Rhea and Pluto (sculpted in Athens in 371 B.C.E.) in an article elucidating the artistic style of the Queen of Peace. She is a renaissance Madonna wearing Greek clothes, hair style, and sandals. The artist was inspired by depictions of Greek goddesses and Italian renaissance madonnas. Generally it seems that European Catholics are not at all afraid of links to pre-Christian cultures. On the contrary, they are proud of their old roots.


*1: Ean Begg, The Cult of the Black Virgin, Arkana/Penguin Books, London: 1985, p.209


paris-neuilly.jpg

In the chapel of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Thomas of Villeneuve (open to the public), 52 Blvd. d'Argenson, Neuilly-sur-Seine, outside of Paris, 14th century, replacing an 11th century version of The Black Virgin of Paris, 150 cm, painted limestone. photo: Fortier

2. Our Lady of Good Deliverance
(Notre Dame de la Bonne Delivrance)

 

She used to stand in the church Saint-Etienne-des-Grès in the Latin Quarter, but that church was destroyed during the Revolution and all its content sold. Madame de Carignan, a pious rich lady bought the statue and venerated her in her private home until she was arrested during the Reign of Terror (a period of 11 months following the Revolution, which cost 20-40,000 people their lives.) In jail she used to pray to Our Lady of Good Deliverance with others who had been arrested for their faith, in particular the Sisters of St. Thomas. When all of them survived and were freed in 1806, Madame gave the Black Virgin to the Sisters.

Under the patronage of this Virgin the Royal Confraternity of the Charity of Our Lady of Good Deliverance had been founded in 1533 and comprised thousands of aristocratic and common members. It was meant to be "a saintly society" dedicated to the honor of God and "his very dignified Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary … to keep a singular devotion alive in all real Christian men and women." This association was founded by a priest named Jean Olivier, who was "greatly pious, devoted to Our Lady with strong affection, in the service of the Queen of Angels".(*1) The group organized processions and ministered to prisoners, even paying their debts if they were imprisoned for not being able to pay them.

Our Lady of Good Deliverance was invoked as a helper in all kinds of calamities and suffering, whether of a spiritual or material nature. She was also called upon as the Victorious One in the fight against the Huguenots and other "heretics."

The great saints of Paris, most notably Vincent de Paul and Francis de Sales prayed before her. Young Francis spent some years in Paris as he was trying to find his way in life. His poor soul went into a downward spiral of despair as he became more and more convinced that he was doomed to eternal hell fire. One day he went before Our Lady of Good Deliverance to pour out his heart. Soon he was moved to pick up a prayer tablet that was hanging from the railing of her chapel. He read the prayer, "…rose from his knees, and at that very moment felt entirely healed. His troubles, so it seemed to him, had fallen about his feet like a leper's scales."(*2) Immediately he made a vow of celibacy before God and his Mother. The prayer he had sent to Heaven was the Memorare: 
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To you I come; before you I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate! Despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

Not long after this event another priest with great love for Our Mother who ministered to the poor and to prisoners in Paris, spread the fame of this prayer. To this day it is recited all over the world at the conclusion of the Rosary. 


Footnotes
*1: www.missel.free.fr/Sanctoral/07/18.php
*2: Account of his very close friend St. Jane de Chantal, quoted in: Marie Chantal Sbordone, VHM Mary's Role in the Faith Crisis of St. Francis de Sales, on www.desales.edu/~salesian/resources/articles/English/sfscrisis.bvm.htm

In

Orleans

Orleans.jpg

In the Chapel Notre Dame des Miracles,  8 Ruelle Saint-Paul about one mile from the cathedral, Loiret department, Centre region, 16th century replacement of 5th century wooden statue burnt by Protestants, 130 cm including the base, painted stone. photo: Ph. Plisson, Orleans

Our Lady of Miracles

 

 

The original Black Madonna of Orleans came from Syria in the 5th century. She accompanied a group of her countrymen who settled outside the city gates of Orleans in a village called Avenum. They were Christian traders who sold Middle Eastern luxury items like perfume, fabric, jewelry, and spices. Remember, Syria sheltered one of the earliest Christian communities and it was here (in Damascus) that Paul was baptized.
The Syrian community in Orleans prospered until the 8th century. In the 7th century its homeland had been absorbed into the expanding Muslim empire. Gradually trade between Muslim East and Christian West ceased and the Syrian population in France melted into the French. Their Black Madonna became the Dark Mother of all the citizens of Orleans.

As such she rose to great fame in the 9th century, during the Norman invasions. These Viking pirates who ended up settling in Northern France, spread terror wherever they went, pillaging, destroying and massacring whole towns. The people of Avenum knew that their only hope of surviving an attack lay in Heaven. So men, women, and children gathered at the church prostrated themselves before the Mother of God and begged her to liberate them from the enemy. Then they took the statue and placed her on the gate of their fortified town, in hopes that she would chase away the Normans. The keeper of the gate hid behind the Madonna and was shooting arrows at the invaders when one of them discovered him and yelled: "You won't be able to avoid death and that image won't defend you, unless you come down right now and open the gate." Having said this, he in turn shot an arrow that would have found its aim, had not the statue come alive and extended a knee so as to intercept the deadly weapon. The enemies witnessed this miracle in awe and immediately proclaimed loudly that the Holy Mother was defending and fighting for the inhabitants of Avenum. In fear they threw their arms down and asked for peace, which was gladly granted. Once the statue with the arrow imbedded in its knee was back in her chapel, the Normans offered her presents and promised never again to hurt anybody from her village.(*1) The arrow remained in her knee for many centuries as her fame kept spreading.

Around the late 12th century her little oratory was expanded. But only her chapel bore her name, while the church as a whole was dedicated to St. Paul. Maybe Our Lady didn't like this. In any case, during World War II she allowed St. Paul's church to be completely destroyed, while her chapel did not suffer a scratch. The whole neighborhood was in ashes, but not even a piece of her lace was scorched.
During the Middle Ages many more miracles were attributed to her intercession and she was honored first with four then with eight annual processions.

Her greatest feat was helping Jeanne d'Arc secure victory over the English occupiers. In 1409 the people of Orleans formally asked the Black Madonna to save their country from the English, but 18 years later the situation still looked desperate. Charles VII, the rightful French heir to the throne, had only one stronghold left: Orleans, and the English lay siege to it in October 1428. But the tide began to turn in April 1429, when the young maiden Jeanne d'Arc was able to break through the English siege with her troops. Men, women, and children greeted her as enthusiastically "as if they had seen God descend among them."(*2) The young saint spent one week in Orleans, in a house with a private passage way to the chapel of the Black Madonna. Daily she prayed at the feet of the Lady who conquered other invaders and who still bore the Norman arrow. After that week Jeanne defeated the English and won a miraculous victory. But like the Mother of Orleans, she too paid the price of being wounded by an arrow. I think Jeanne d'Arc being wounded could have easily been the end of her victorious advance had she not just come from that famous Lady who also won victory by taking an arrow. As it was, Jeanne was seen as an instrument, extension, and delegate of the Queen of Heaven.
While Charles VII tried to forget that embarrassing peasant girl who returned him to his throne and did nothing to save her from burning at the stake, he didn't seem to mind help from "the woman robed in the sun", as long as she remained in Heaven. The Black Madonna didn't interfere with social hierarchies in such an obvious way and so he asked the people of Orleans to beg for her continued intercession. Once France had shaken the English occupiers off, the king ordered a great thanksgiving procession to her chapel.

Dark times came for Our Lady during the Wars of Religion. She was burned in 1562 by Huguenot (French protestant) soldiers. But soon after a truce was reached, a new statue was commissioned to take the throne of the ancient one. She was sculpted by an artist who still remembered the original. He tried to reproduce the same facial features, but made major changes on the rest of her body. In keeping with the style of the time, he let her stand rather than sit as the throne of wisdom. Since the Renaissance, statues of Mary were modeled after Greco-Roman sculptures rather than Egyptian ones. In the mind of the people this gave them more authority or importance.(*3)
In remembrance of her blocking the Norman arrow, the statue's right knee is extended and pronounced. She is sculpted in stone rather than wood so that her enemies would not be able to destroy her again so easily. This was good foresight, because a couple of centuries later she was indeed in grave danger again when a revolutionary was ordered to destroy her. The man was a metalworker, but all his hammers could only do relatively little damage. He mutilated her left thumb and the feet of baby Jesus, and damaged her robes a little. Then he gave up and contented himself with stealing her mantle.

In 1805 and again in 1922 the chapel of Our Lady was greatly enlarged and embellished. It's stain glass windows and mosaics tell the story of the Madonna's and Jeanne d'Arc's history and glory. She was solemnly crowned in 1902. The booklet sold in her sanctuary calls her "the allmighty suppliant".(*4)


Footnotes
*1: This is the account recorded in 1221 by Vincent de Beauvais in his "Miroir Historique", quoted in "La tradition vivante, Notre-Dame des Miracles, La Vierge Noire d'Orléans", Éditions C.I.F., Sainte-Maxime: 1983, p.6 This booklet is published and sold by the sanctuary of Notre-Dame des Miracles.
*2: Ibid. p.9
*3: Ibid. p. 12
*4: Ibid. p. 30 This is not Catholic dogma, but popular acclamation, allowed as a poetic expression of devotion.

In